Monday, May 25, 2015

Opinion: Dirty streets column attracts mixed reaction Vancouver Courier May 20, 2015



When I wrote last week’s column after seeing garbage piled up on the pavement along East Hastings Street, I expected a good number of responses. But I was still astonished by what many of you had to say.

Some online comments were included in Friday’s Courier, including a note from Joji Kumagai of the Strathcona BIA clarifying that the Hastings Crossing BIA is responsible for daytime cleaning of this portion of East Hastings Street, not his organization.

Sarah P. was more critical: “Michael Geller, your pearl clutching is embarrassing. And if you’re this hard up for column ideas, you might consider just not submitting something, rather than turning in this kind of ideological dreck.”

I did hear from Wes Regan, executive director of the Hastings Crossing BIA. He initially was of the view shared by many others; namely that my concern for weeds and garbage outweighed any concern I might have for the people on the street.

I subsequently spoke with him. He questioned how a BIA with the smallest budget in the city could reasonably be expected to keep the 100-block of East Hastings Street tidy, noting their entire budget could be blown through in a couple of months.

He referred me to the city’s street cleaning and sanitation departments since he has often asked for more garbage cans but they never seem to arrive. I promised to mention this with the hope that my column might result in more garbage cans along the street.

He also pointed out that it is important to distinguish between the regular sidewalk street vending along 100-block and the Pigeon Park Street Market, which is relocating to a new site on Powell Street, adding: “If we want to see cleaner, nicer, safer looking streets, we should eliminate poverty and work with street vendors.”

While I hope we do not have to end poverty before we can have cleaner streets, I do acknowledge another of Regan’s concerns, also indirectly expressed in Jordon Shaw’s Facebook comment:
“This isn’t clutter, this is their living room. How would you like it if someone took a picture of your living room?”

Low-income neighbourhood residents have steadily lost indoor spaces to socialize in over the past 15 years. The 24-hour diners have disappeared and mom and pop restaurants are being priced out of the neighbourhood. As a result, a lot more people are looking for places to hang out.

However, last week’s column and the accompanying photograph were not about the street vendors or people standing around on the street. My concern was the garbage being allowed to pile up on the road. While many defended the mess since the people are poor, a local resident named Deirdre shared my view of the situation. Poverty has nothing to do with being dirty; it’s stereotypical to believe they go together.
 
Last week’s column also elicited concerns about other parts of the city. Jacqueline wrote: “Our streets downtown are dirty as well! Have you ever looked around the Bay and seen and smelt the urine? Granville Street is awful!”

While I heard similar concerns about other neighbourhoods, I received encouraging words from the City of Vancouver. It seems Vancouver does have an adopt-a-block program as part of the Keep Vancouver Spectacular (KVS) initiative and 76 blocks are being looked after.
 
The program is in its 20th year, with 18,739 participants, and as part of this year’s kickoff and Tourism Vancouver’s annual cleanup, volunteers do cover part of the Downtown Eastside. In addition, the Chinatown BIA is doing a cleanup on May 24 and the Carnegie Centre organizes cleanups throughout the year. There is also one volunteer that who lives in the neighbourhood who cleans up each Sunday after the Pigeon Park Market.
 
So there you have it. Yes, the 100-block East Hastings Street is a serious problem that needs attention, but the city-wide situation is not as grim as I may have portrayed.

Now, if we could get more garbage cans and additional funding for street cleaning along Hastings Street, hopefully I won’t have to write on this topic next year.

This will no doubt please Sarah P.